A new book, just out, is a fun look at making beginning robotics projects with items around the home, Homemade Robots: 10 Simple Bots to Build with Stuff Around the House by Randy Sarafan.
Homemade Robots is a beginner’s guide to building a wide range of mobile, autonomous bots using common household materials. Its 10 creative and easy-to-follow projects are designed to maximize fun with minimal effort—no electronics experience necessary!
From the teetering Wobbler to the rolling Barreller, each bot is self-driving and has a unique personality. There’s the aptly named Inchworm Bot made of aluminum rulers; Buffer, a street sweeper-like bot that polishes the floor as it walks; and Sail Bot, which changes direction based on the wind.
Randy Sarafan’s hacker approach to sculptural robotics will appeal to builders of all ages. You’ll learn basic electronics, get comfortable with tools and mechanical systems, and gain the confidence to explore further on your own. A wide world of robots is yours to discover, and Homemade Robots is the perfect starting point.
Mini Review by Adafruit
I was sent a copy and it is a lovely read. The book doesn’t assume you know complex things like electrical circuits or fabrication – it explains concepts in a wonderfully easy and patient way. And with that, ten fun robots can be built with items you may have laying around the house. With more distance learning and home schooling this year, this would be an excellent addition to home learning as well as making and helping curious folks get started with making and robotic concepts without need of a college degree.
Adafruit asks author Randy Sarafan some questions:
Is this your first book?
Homemade Robots is my second book. My first book 62 Project to Make with a Dead Computer involved repurposing old computers (and other electronic devices) to give them new life as DIY projects. While some of the projects in the book still hold up, a number of the devices I repurposed were already outdated when I wrote the book in 2008 and might now be considered museum artifacts.
What do you do, a little about yourself, etc.
I have been working for Instructables for almost 15 years and have served as Technology Editor, Lead Content Creator, and most recently Community Manager. During this time I have posted over 350 Instructables on a wide array of subjects. I am constantly tinkering, learning, and creating new things.
What inspired you to write a book on robots?
After college I spent three weeks teaching junior high school students robotics. We were using commercial robot kits and by the end of the first week, half of the parts were missing. By the second week they all had half-built robots that could be programmed, but were basically useless. By the last week, we had abandoned the kits altogether and we started building art robots using vibrating motors, paper cups, rubber bands and markers. This was by far easier, cheaper, faster and all-around more fun than the expensive robot kits that were given.
This experience led me to mull over why that was. For starters, when you were building robots out of the parts you can find on hand, there was never “wrong” or missing parts. There was also no “right” way to build these robots and the kids were free to modify them as they saw fit. Additionally, there were no large technical barriers or dependencies standing in the way of getting results. To me, the important part was not that the students were building robots which completed a specific task like following a line, but were exploring technology, being creative and having fun with open-ended play.
By chance, a few years later I had a friend who kept saying that he wanted to learn to build robots, but it was too hard. Having remembered my earlier experience teaching robots, I decided to employ these principles to quickly build a simple robot to show him how easy it could be. I had a lot of fun doing that, and decided to build another, and then another, and another. Next thing I know, I am writing a book.
Who is your target audience? Who do you think will benefit most from this?
This book is for anyone who wants to have fun and be creative while getting started with robotics. The only requirement is that you are mature enough to handle a power drill and a soldering iron, or you are able to get help from someone who is.
Even if you have been building robots for a while, I would hope this book still contains some information that you might find engaging or helpful.
Why write a book on robotics when there are other resources available like Instructables? Why not blog posts or a video series?
All of this actually started as a series of Instructables! As this progressed, I began to see this as a cohesive project that couldn’t be fully encapsulated by one-off tutorials. I wanted to create a clear guide to share my particular theory on building robots alongside example projects. A book seemed like the best way to accomplish this.
Additionally, while there is often a tendency for technology tutorials to become quickly outdated, I think the information I am sharing is more evergreen. I am confident that in 10 – or even 20 – years someone will be able to pick up this book and still get something out of it. While I hope websites like Instructables are still around and thriving in 20 years, I look back now at the digital art I was making two decades ago and most of it has vanished from the internet. While we are led to believe that digital information will live online forever, I honestly believe that books still have a longer shelf life (literally and figuratively).
And, if you ever outgrow the book, you will have developed the knowledge and skills to repurpose it into a robot. You can’t do that with a video!
Do you plan on doing some videos and more later for the book?
Do I need a particular background to follow along? Do you have any recommendations?
I purposefully wrote this book with beginners in mind and no special background is needed. I encourage you to be curious, creative and patient with yourself. Don’t get disheartened if it doesn’t work the first time. Also, embrace your mistakes. Sometimes unexpected outcomes can lead to more interesting places than where you were trying to get to in the first place.
So I’ve finished reading this book, what is the next step?
Once you have mastered building the robots in this book, the likely next step is to learn more about microcontrollers, electronics, and sensors. You can find a list of additional resources in the appendix.
Are you planning any additional books in the future?
This book was over 10 years in the making and I am relieved that it is finally seeing the light of day. It’s a great weight off my shoulders. For the moment I am happy to take a moment to pause, and celebrate this book. That said, I have started outlining at least five future books.
Thank you Randy for taking the time to talk with us and every success with the book!
The book Homemade Robots: 10 Simple Bots to Build with Stuff Around the House is by No Starch Press and should be available from standard retailers worldwide. I hope libraries also select this for reference.